I was sixteen when I got my first pay cheque. All I saw were money signs. I rubbed my face with the golden bills of adulthood. It was a beautiful moment.

That money meant only good times ahead for me. Until the good times ended as quickly as I spent it.

The problem was I didn’t know how to control myself, nor what budgeting really meant.What I spent on fast food, movie tickets, new clothes, and the latest iPhone had me waiting on edge for that next cheque. And once I’d gone through that, I was waiting on the next one. And then the next.

The feeling of going from your parents pocket change to the independence of your own income is beyond exhilarating. The issue is now young adults are less likely to have savings to draw on in case of an emergency. We spend more than we save.

At sixteen, I was earning minimum wage, about one-third to two-thirds of the adult minimum wage. I had a stash I would try to set aside but I didn’t have any real reason to keep it. Spending made me happy, so I kept working so I could keep spending.

ABS data shows that one in six Australians aged 15-24 are living in poverty. And ¾ of young people who present to homelessness services for assistance have a government pension or allowance as their main source of income. I wasn’t living in poverty, but as I got older I noticed adulthood was getting more expensive. I didn’t have any reserves, and neither do a lot of us at that age.

In my early 20s now, those early working days were my learning experiences. Now, when I receive my pay-slips, I look at it in detail. At sixteen, I didn’t care about ‘salary’ or ‘gross pay’. Now, when we get payslips, we need to read them, but we also need to understand them.

Learn what all the words and numbers mean. I didn’t know I was being underpaid at one job until years later, but by then the place had closed down.

Take some time to understand your payslip. ‘Gross’ income isn’t really gross, it’s actually probably the best number on the page. It’s your total personal income before taking taxes or deductions.

The reason it isn’t the number you get in your bank account is because you are now a tax-paying citizen of Australia. This is your ‘net’ pay.

With my net pay, I really felt I could have it all. I was living by the beach, going out late, and working extra hours to afford that extra drink on Friday nights.

If given the option, I’d tell my former self to hold out. What did I really want to do with my life? I’m not saying game-plan twenty years. But I knew my mates were planning a trip to South East Asia and my parents weren’t going to be ones flipping the bill.

Plan for the future. Short-term goals are ideal for young Australians. A single pay cheque usually isn’t enough to afford something you want now so the best option is to set aside a specific amount each pay day.

Start budgeting. It’s as easy as online grocery shopping and seeing how much feeding yourself will cost, then saving the spreadsheets. You don’t have to buy anything yet, just put pen to paper.

Personal loans and credit cards are useful, but it’s easy to get swept up in the idea of ‘fake’ money and swept under with real debt.

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Even now I can’t imagine myself at retirement age. I read my payslips, see the money going into my super, and am pretty content with that. It’s that little extra you’re willing to set aside that’s going to make life easier down the road though.

A couple hoping to enjoy a comfortable retirement will need $57,665 a year. A single person happy to live a modest lifestyle will need $23,175 a year!

According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the average life expectancy in Australia is currently 81.85 years (slightly higher for women and lower for men) and has increased almost 5 years over the last 20 years.
If that rate continues, you will be looking at 20+ years of retirement.

Based on the above, as a couple, then, you are looking at needing $1,153,300 to enjoy 20 years of comfortable retirement – and that is using the current income estimate, which is only going to increase with cost of living increases.

Work smarter, not harder. Your super is your support, and every employer must contribute at least 9.5% of each employee’s salary into their chosen super fund. Long-term seems like a long-time away, but you’ll thank yourself later for being in the best financial position.

So, before you go wild on that first pay cheque and spend big, think about what you want in the short, mid, and long term. If one more drink now will make you your happiest, by all means, just maybe don’t make it the most expensive one on the tab.